Other than bedrooms and baths, square footage is one of the most important considerations a home buyer contemplates when purchasing a home. Square footage, in many cases, lays the foundation to a sellers pricing strategy as well as gives the buyer a starting point when making an offer.
The importance to accurate square footage can't be underestimated, per the insurance industry, inaccurate square footage is one of the main reasons real estate agents are named in law suits. In fact, square footage problems have become such a huge concern for the real estate insurance industry, that some insurers have started marketing campaigns educating realtors on how to accurately calculate square footage.
In my experience the single biggest problem isn't that agents aren't measuring the homes it is that they are assuming the public record information is accurate and complete. For example, many agents are simply using previous MLS datasheets to populate the square footage information into their current MLS data sheets. This practice assumes that the previous agens information is accurate and complete without verification. Many people could argue that this practice is a lack of due diligence on the part of the current agent. At the very least, it could be successfully argued that this practice is a lack of professional conduct. As a realtor myself I couldn't imagine anything worse than developing a reputation or a brand in the marketplace that is seen as someone who is not a thorough or doesn't care.
The second most prevalent problem that I have experienced is that the original information provided from the builder himself is not accurate and complete or at the very least was entered into the public record inaccurately. A great example of the record being entered inaccurately is the difference between total square footage and total area. Total area typically represents the foundation, it represents the whole footprint of the home including attached no living spaces. Total square footage is typically a representation of actual living area excluding attached no living spaces, like garages. For many homes that do have attached garages or a attached not living spaces that are a part of the footprint or foundation of the home, these spaces have been included in the total square footage incorrectly.
To determine just how prevalent this problem is in my area I took my own neighborhood and check to see if the total area and total square footage of the homes are the same. In other words, I pulled the courthouse retrieval system tax record and looked at the total square footage number and looked at the total area number and if these two numbers were exactly the same and the home had an attached garage then I knew there was a problem. Almost every home in my neighborhood has an attached garage and accordingly has an inaccurate total square footage. My home is in an older neighborhood and therefore I had assumed that maybe this problem was only with the older homes however, I did the same investigation work with a newer subdivision, with more than three times the number of homes in my subdivision, and found that the problem was prevalent.
From my years of experience and from what little investigation I did I can confidently say that I believe a large portion of homes in middle Tennessee who have attached garages and are built in subdivisions most likely have inaccurate square footage from anywhere at a minimum of 150 square feet for a one car garage to up to 450 square feet for a standard three car garage.
Now for some homeowners this problem of square footage is compounded by the fact that the MLS data sheets have been fudged on the square footage numbers by agents, to make homes appear bigger. For example, a home that has a square footage of 1,459 is entered into the MLS data system as 1500. In fact, this problem of agents adjusting square footage is so severe that I know in my neighborhood a home has been over calculated by more than 500 square feet.
In the above example the home has been measured three separate times by three separate people, once by myself, once by my buyer, and at least once by the residents of the home. Not to mention, that upon the discovery of this square footage discrepancy it was made very clear to the home owner herself in front of her current residents that this home is approximately between 1250 and 1275 square feet.
The courthouse retrieval system tax records showed the home to have an equal total area and equal total square footage of 1559. This home has a two car attached garage of approximately 300 square feet; if you subtract the 300 approximate square feet for the garage from the total square footage / total area of 1559 you get a total square feet of 1259 which falls right into line with the three separate measurements by three separate people obtained earlier.
Now to the kicker, this home has recently been listed at is currently active with a realtor however, the MLS data sheet shows a total square feet of 1700. The problem here is that per the builder the total footprint of this home is only 1559 square feet, no additions to the footprint of the home had ever been made, so how is it possible that this home has morphed to 1700 square feet? It's not possible!
In fact what we have here is a complete and total lack of due diligence on behalf of the realtor and potentially a seller who can be accused of fraud.
Granted, in the best of times when homes are selling at record pace square footage may not be as big of a concern however when the market softens and pennies become very important any inaccuracy in square footage can find a seller behind a defendant's desk. The truth of the example given above is that homes in this neighborhood are selling between 92 and $100.00 a square foot. So for a home to take a 500 square foot drop it could potentially equal upwards of a $50,000.00 loss in the sell of the home. For many homeowners whose equity is their only savings such a realization could be unbearable and cause the homeowner not to disclose. Such a lack of disclosure puts everyone in the transaction at risk and underscores the point of this entire Blog and that is agents need to measure homes. At the very least buyers need to measure homes.
I wish you the best of luck on your next real estate transaction. Don't forget, I'm here to help, for questions please feel free to contact me directly through this blog or on my cell 615 - 424 - 0961